Dr. John Boy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Leiden University working for the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology. He coordinates the Digitalization Research Cluster at this Institute and is part of the BOLD Cities Team Science Project on ‘Digital Technologies & the Symbolic Trajectories of Urban Neighbourhoods’.
Could you tell us more about your academic background and your expertise?
I did an undergraduate degree in Social Sciences and then a PhD in Sociology at the City University of New York, during which I focused on urban religion and did field research in different cities on newly founded churches. After my PhD, however, I wanted to move on from being a religion researcher and kind of reinvent myself. This was also in the period that I moved to The Netherlands and had a brief stint as a visiting fellow at Utrecht University’s Centre for the Humanities. I successfully applied for a postdoc position at the University of Amsterdam, where I worked for four years with Prof. dr. Justus Uitermark, who is a sociologist and geographer. We started a research project that we have been working on for the past seven years which is now culminating in a book called ‘On Display: Instagram, The Self, and The City’. The book is about to go into production.
After working at the UvA, I applied for a job in Anthropology at Leiden University, where I currently work. I teach methods, mainly on how to bring together qualitative field methods and computational methods. The combination of these methods is also what we have been doing in the research with Justus, where we combine traditional qualitative techniques, such as interviewing and observations, with analysis of hundreds of thousands Instagram posts and millions of interactions on them, using network analysis and geographic analysis. So, looking back, part of my ‘reinvention’ was getting into that toolkit, combining qualitative with computational methods.
I really praise the Centre for this approach which focusses on making team research projects possible for early-career people such as myself.
How did you get involved with the Centre for BOLD Cities?
I had long been aware of the existence of the Centre for BOLD Cities because of the combination of urban studies and digital methods that the Centre as an interdisciplinary hub works a lot with. And I thought it would be an interesting space with interesting people from across many disciplines to connect with. About three and a half years ago, I got an invitation to participate in the first Team Science design session. We got together in The Hague with a lot of early-career researchers that had prepared one-page memos on research ideas. We were grouped into three or four groups based on broadly shared themes, and on that day we worked on these ideas in several sessions during which we worked out a concrete research project. It was a really cool experience, because we actually had the chance of putting something together with really smart people in the room and actually having the chance of getting that project funded. I really praise the Centre for this approach which focusses on making these kinds of team research projects possible for early-career people such as myself.
This project integrates quite nicely with what I did before, but at the same time took me to new questions, new ways of working, and new collaborators.